Why is Ogina having a special issue on HIV/AIDS?
by Huluka Abebe, Steven W. Thomas, and Do’ii Yohannis / go back to Third Issue

Last fall, the editors of Ogina decided that we wanted to have a special issue on the subject of HIV-AIDS for one important reason: change. Admittedly, the word change is one of those overused words full of promise but not always full of substance. However, we can’t think of any other word that would better fit this issue.

Knowledge has the power to change. This issue will teach those who don’t know, will remind those who have forgot, will encourage many who want to help, and will inspire the future generation to do better than we have. One of the problems the Oromo face today is not ignorance, but willful ignorance. To put it simply, everyone knows that HIV/AIDS is a problem, but nobody wants to talk about it. And instead of solving the problem, our silence only makes it worse.

aidsIndividuals such as Dr. Ibrahim Elemo and Mr. Ephraim Olani are working hard on behalf of the Oromo community, and they need our support. Therefore, this issue of Ogina includes an essay by Dr. Elemo about the facts of HIV/AIDS as they pertain to the Oromo.

Fact: according to United Nations data, Ethiopia has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the world.

Fact: according to Minnesota Department of Health, Oromo and Ethiopian-Americans have the highest rate of HIV/AIDS of all foreign-born residents of the state.

But what do we do about these facts? Dr. Elemo has many wise recommendations for what to do both in Oromia and in Diaspora. In addition to his article, one of our editors, Hana Tesfaye-Berhanu, interviewed Mr. Olani about his work with The Sub-Saharan Youth and Family Services of Minnesota. His work is an example of what we can do and what we all need to think about. We hope our issue will not only help share the work of Dr. Elemo and Mr. Olani with the world but also inspire them and others to continue working.

artwork by Zakia Posey

Knowledge can help us solve this problem, but knowledge alone is not enough. There has to be a will to know – a will to face reality. And hence, to create that willpower, artists such as Boonaa Mohommed and Patricia Lukamba Waliaula sing songs and tell stories that might bring about a change in culture, a change of mind, and ultimately a change of will. For example, we might look to inspiration from Doreen Baingana's short story about HIV/AIDS in Uganda -- "A Thank-You Note" (included in her excellent book of short stories, Tropical Fish: Stories Out of Entebbe.)

The virus HIV has no respect for national borders and cares nothing about ethnic cultures; rather, it is a worldwide event, and so people from different ethnicities and different nation states must work with each other transnationally to respond to it. But what do we mean by transnational? This presents us all with a problem, for as Dr. Elemo points out in his essay, Oromia needs to have some autonomy in order to solve this issue because the Ethiopian government has undermined the Oromo people's efforts; autonomy is important, but at the same time, people around the world learn from each other and share resources. That is why Mr. Olani's organization includes all Sub-Saharan African nations; that is why we include an original short story from Patricia Lukamba Waliaula of Kenya; and that is why one of our editors, Maya Tessema, has written a review of a book that collects stories about how people in India have responded to AIDS and of a documentary that shows how the disempowerment of women in Bronx, New York has something in common with the disempowerment of women in modern-day Ethiopia.


Steven W. Thomas is an assistant professor of English literature at The College of St. Benedict and St. John's University in Minnesota. He has published scholarly articles on eighteenth-century literature and on twenty-first century globalization.

Do’ii Yohannis participates in urban grass roots community, art/film, social/civil justice, and produce gardening projects.  In her spare time, she documents old traditional folk music, dance, theatrical drama, oral history and stories from Oromia.

Huluka Abebe is an aspiring young entrepreneur living and working in Atlanta, Georgia. He began participating in IOYA in early 2007. He is the current treasurer for the organization.